Tom Richardson, assistant manager for education at the USS Pampanito, points out that this lovingly restored U.S. Navy submarine docked at San Francisco's Pier 45 is a meaningful place for the public every day of the year, not just on Memorial Day. Plus, it's fun to poke around down there.
"When you have the opportunity to walk aboard the decks of a boat that was in World War II and listen to the audio tour, or talk to one of our docents, you gain a good sense of what the submariners went through so that we could live the way we do today," he explains.
Kids enjoy crawling through the round doors between the torpedo rooms, but the reality was that 80 to 90 crewmen lived cramped inside this 300-foot-long boat, on tours that lasted 60 days or until all the food, fuel or ammunition was used up. Temperatures in the deafening engine room reached over 100 degrees. With fresh water a precious commodity, the men went weeks without showers, but ate the best food in the armed services to make up for their grueling conditions. A self-guided audio tour narrated by Capt. Edward L. Beach, author of the submarine classic Run Silent, Run Deep, brings the ship alive for visitors.
The Submarine Service played a decisive role during World War II, accounting for over 55 percent of enemy ships sunk in the Pacific. Submariners represented only 1.6 percent of all Navy personnel during the war. The men paid a high price for this accomplishment, however, with the highest percentage casualty rate of any branch of the service, almost 23 percent. The 3,500 men lost aboard those 52 vessels are considered "still on patrol."
The USS Pampanito made six patrols during the war and was responsible for sinking over 27,000 tons of enemy shipping. Today she is one of the finest examples of maritime preservation in the nation and welcomes more than 200,000 visitors each year.
On Memorial Day, 1999, 50 U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II will gather to post colors aboard the USS Pampanito. The "Lost Boat" ceremony will commemorate the 52 submarines and over 3,500 submariners lost during the war, with the tolling of the ship's bell and the dipping of each boat's flag. The surviving wives throw carnations into the bay. The public is invited.
Docked at San Francisco's Pier 45